Tennis then, tennis now

The Jack Kramer Circus in tennis, started by the World no 1 Kramer, broke away from mainstream tennis (all amateur) in the mid 1940s. Kramer had won every title in the game but wanted to make more money and more perks for the top players who would all turn professional. All top players in the game including Pancho Gonzales, and Pancho Segura joined the Circus. The money was better, the treatment fabulous and the loss to amateur status was not felt. Of course, the pros were banned from top amateur tournaments like Wimbledon, Davis Cup and international rankings.

The US and Australia were top tennis playing nations producing  ranking players who swept all international titles under the  guidance and coaching skills of Harry Hopman who poached outstanding amateurs once they were established. Look at this fabulous list: Frank Sedgman, Ken McGregor, Mervyn Rose, Rex Hartwig, Lew Hoad, Ken Rosewall (Ausralia), Ted Schroeder Tony Trabert, Dick Savitt and a host of top US singles champions. Kramer was a ‘poacher extraordinary’. It was difficult for the amateurs to resist fabulous financial benefits offered by the Circus. The ‘Kramer Circus’ travelled far and wide. Competition was fierce. But the amateur network was too well established to be seriously disturbed though the Circus did possess the real stars in the game

Who then was the top ranker? Kramer did qualify for the position but had to give up because he had to manage the circus, a fulltime job involving millions of dollars. After him it was ‘Pancho Gonzales’ often referred to as the Greatest player not to have won the Wimbledon’. He had a long tenure which extended to the Open era. Others like Sedgman, Hoad, Rosewall shone as individual champions but only for brief periods. The professional era ended in 1969 and it heralded the open era, when Pancho and Rod Laver enjoyed their moments of glory. The real toppers were Kramer, Pancho, Schroder, Laver and possibly Laver and Sedgman who excelled against all opponents.

India, way down in the Tennis List missed out on the Kramer Circus (like it was ignored for the Packer Circus in cricket). We never made an impression on the world tennis scene. Top players like Ghaus Mohammad, Dilip Bose, Sumant Mishra and later the Krishnan family and the Amritrajs came and went. Some of them opted to play only Doubles. But today, there are crowds to watch tennis. We are a ‘Nation of Watchers’ and despite money and facilities to play abroad, no champion has emerged. The tennis jokes are good though, like the one where it was said that the US Women’s black singles champion Ms Althea Gibson could carry Ramesh Krishnan and yet beat other male players including Vijay Amritraj! Or US champion John McEnroe fuming after being beaten by Ramesh Krishnan, “Oh, heck! How can I beat this guy? I wait for half an hour and his serve still does not reach me. Like the Indian rope trick this must be the Indian Slow Service Trick!”

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